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December 30, 2005

-- Hurricane Journal --

Christmas cheer in a FEMA camper

By Samantha Perez

Monday, Dec. 26, 4:44 p.m. , Ponchatoula , Louisiana

No one can predict what happens in life. Fate is crazy like that. Sometimes, Fate makes life good, warm and sweet like freshly baked cookies. You meet people who care about you or you gain a friend. You walk through a parking lot and find a shiny penny face-up on the ground. But no matter how many good things happen, there are other times when Fate turns cruel. You lose your home in a hurricane or, worse, you lose yourself and become hurt and confused.

  The Perez family Christmas tree, inside their camper

Christmas was yesterday. I played my flute for Midnight Mass with the church choir. Even though he had to go to work early the next morning, Dad came to church with my mom and listened to me play. I had a few solos, and when I played, the people in the pews below me turned and looked up at the choir loft. They turned to look. They turned to watch me play.

We came home after Mass and opened a few presents, because Dad would be working on Christmas Day. Mom had bought me the first season of Jonny Quest, and Dad and I were both really excited about it. Mom and Dad fell asleep on the sofa while I watched Jonny Quest until 3:15 in the morning. Then, Dad woke up and left because he needed to be at work for 5:30 -- and work for him is back in St. Bernard, over an hour away.

I have been looking back lately, thinking about everything thatís happened. In a way, itís a frightening, statistical wonder. In the months since the weekend of the hurricane, I have lived in four separate locations: a house, a hotel, a dorm room and a FEMA camper. I have been enrolled in three different schools. At night, I sleep on a sofa, a space heater plugged into the wall beside me. I drive on the interstate to get to my new school, where the people around me do not know me. This is my senior year of high school.

I come home in the late afternoon, and I try to write stories of my own, because stories take people away from bad things. I write, and I write and I am happy. Iím always tired lately, too worn out from everything. Itís stress, I guess. Maybe thatís why I am always getting sick here. Whatever the reason, by the middle of the evening, Iím exhausted. I take my shower at night. Without fail, I run out of hot water, and the cold water that comes in its place is frigid.

When I sleep, I keep my laptop and my MP3 player next to me because Iím afraid that the camper might burn down, and then I would have nothing left to help me keep going.

Like I said, Fate is crazy.

Yet, in spite of everything that has happened, I am happy. Iím not a fool. I know that everything that has happened to me in the past year has made me better, stronger, wiser. I can take more disappointment and hurt than I ever could. I can let the bad fates roll down my back. I dodge punches, and I throw some of my own.

This time last year, I was happy, in a relationship with someone I cared for. Last Christmas Eve, Shelby came to my house. We exchanged Christmas presents beneath my tree, and he said that he loved me. The next day, it snowed. It actually snowed in St. Bernard. White flakes fell down from the sky, and in my front yard, I made a little snowman. That Christmas, this time last year, was wonderful.

I was ready for things then, but I wasnít throwing any punches. I had stopped growing stronger while I was dating Shelby . I lost my independence slowly, and I did not even realize that it was gone until it was too late. A trait I always prided myself in, my independence, had slipped away, and I had done nothing to stop it.

I guess thatís why I was so bad off when he left me. I wandered around for months, trying to find myself again, find the person I was before him. It certainly took awhile to remember who I really am inside. It was not easy, but I have no regrets. The relationship I did have so long ago and all the things that happened to me this past summer have made me a stronger person. I am wiser than I was before. I understand more, and I wonít forget the mistakes I made. I will use them, instead, and continue along my way.

The hurricane was unexpected, a fine twist Fate sent my way. I can remember sitting in the passenger seat of my motherís car, looking out of the window. It was still dark because the sun hadnít risen yet. We had just finished yelling at each other because she had thrown the things I had packed on the floor. I was angry. I remember looking out and seeing the lights of other cars on the road, and I remember wanting to cry. Wanting. I didnít cry. I kept going.

Thatís what I do. I find a way, and I keep going. What else is there to do? Iíve learned to not get attached to things, because with a snap of Fateís delicate fingers, those possessions can be wiped away. Maybe thatís why I sleep with my laptop nearby. I donít like letting Fate hold all the cards. I want to make my own Fate. I want a part in creating my future.

Deep down, I am worried about college. Tuition is expensive, and Iím working hard to apply for scholarships. I guess I donít want to be alone wherever I go, but I know I canít let my friends change my decision. Everything around me, even my friends, is unreliable lately. I am too, I know. Itís an effect of the storm. No one knows what is going to happen. Definite plans are made in the very last minute.

I donít know where I will go for college, but I know what I want to do. Iím going to work hard and double major with English and journalism. Doors were opened to me after the hurricane that I did not know existed. I donít want to close those doors.

Iíve known what really matters in life for a very long time: just happiness. Sometimes, though, I forget, or it slips to the back of my mind. Itís funny, because even though I run out of hot water every time I take a shower and even though I sleep on a tiny sofa next to a space heater, I am happy, and thatís all that matters in life. Happiness.

I live in a snow globe. Fate shakes my world up, and the snow falls again. A lot of the times, the snow is so thick around me, I canít see happiness or the way to reach it. Thatís when life gets hard. The things you depend on fail, or the life you know is blown away. 

What I have learned is that there are things in life that cannot be expected, altered or ignored, and when it comes down to it, the only thing we can do is stand before the monster on our own feet. I learned that. All the things that have happened to me ó the happiness last Christmas when I was loved by someone special, the hurt I felt when he left and the fear I face now when I make plans for college ó have made me stronger and wiser. 

I have no idea where Fate will bring me next year. I have no idea what I will look like or who my friends will be. I have no idea where I will be. In a dorm? In a FEMA camper still? I do not know, and I wonít know. Thatís what makes life tricky. But I know that, because of the things that have happened to me, I am better prepared to face the hard times this upcoming year will bring. All I can do, and all any of us can do, is keep walking along and when a fist comes flying my way, duck. Or work some Jonny Quest Judo magic and fight back. 

Maybe Iím just fooling myself, but right now, I am sitting on the floor of my camper. The space heater is running because Iím cold, and thereís a tiny Christmas tree we bought from Target on our little table. I live in a camper, and my friends live across the state. I have no idea what to do about college and the rest of my future, but right now, I am happy. I have no idea why, but I am.  I am happy! And now, as I look back at all that has happened, I realize that this was the hardest year I have ever lived through, and, despite that, I know in my heart that I would not change a thing.

Read Samantha Perez's

Hurricane Journal

Comment on Sammy's journal


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